EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Case Keenum dropped back to pass for Minnesota in the first quarter against Cleveland. He faked a short throw to his right to running back Jerick McKinnon before stepping up in the pocket with hope for a bigger play.
Keenum kept moving forward with his receivers covered, trying to run for at least a short gain before Browns defensive end Carl Nassib corralled him for a 1-yard loss.
The Vikings kicked a field goal at the end of that drive and recovered from a sluggish start that afternoon to win comfortably, leaving that sack harmlessly behind.
That takedown of Keenum behind the line of scrimmage still stands out almost a month later, though. That’s the only time he has been sacked in the last 5 1/2 games since taking over again for the hobbled Sam Bradford late in the second quarter at Chicago on Oct. 9. With a vastly improved offensive line providing impeccable protection, the Vikings (8-2) have won six straight games.
“Those guys are playing absolutely awesome,” Keenum said. “I love what they’re doing.”
The Vikings have the NFL’s best sacks-allowed-per-pass-play percentage at 2.91 percent, with only 10 allowed in 344 opportunities. Four of those came in the first half against the Bears when Bradford was bothered by the left knee that has kept him out of all but 1 1/2 games this season.
“We’re doing a good job of protecting. We’re changing protections. He’s doing a good job of moving in the pocket. He’s getting the ball to the right place,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
For as much credit the front five has deservedly received for the time Keenum has had to throw this year, Keenum himself is a significant factor in the startlingly low sack total.
He is quicker and more elusive than Bradford, moving around behind the line with a keen blend of awareness and boldness. There was no greater example of this than on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, when on second-and-5 from the 30-yard line, Keenum sidestepped Robert Quinn and ducked under Aaron Donald to buy just enough time for an on-target heave to Adam Thielen that netted 12 yards late in the first quarter.
The Vikings scored a touchdown a few plays later to tie the game at 7.
“He didn’t just dump it, either. So stuff like that is stuff that you enjoy when you watch it on film later, give him a little pat on the back and a thank you,” right guard Joe Berger said.
When Keenum first replaced Bradford in the second game of the season, his receivers were instructed to be ready.
“‘Hey, I like to run around a little bit, so don’t give up on plays,'” he said, according to tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Zimmer confirmed what’s essentially obvious at this point, that Keenum will start again Thursday at Detroit for the pivotal game in the NFC North race. The Lions (6-4) are the last team to have beaten the Vikings, on Oct. 1 when Anthony Zettel sacked Keenum twice in a 14-7 victory.
The connection between Keenum and the rest of the offense, having practiced all offseason behind Bradford, is so much stronger now than then.
“He’s just starting to realize how we like the ball and what we do best,” Thielen said.
The rest of the Vikings have learned, too, how Keenum likes to play.
“He’s not afraid,” Zimmer said. “He’s going to pull the trigger, and he’s going to play like that. That’s a good thing.”
NOTES: After missing the game against the Rams because of injury, DE Brian Robison (lower back), RT Mike Remmers (concussion) and SS Andrew Sendejo (groin/hamstring) were all limited participants in practice on Tuesday. Remmers was hurt early in the game on Oct. 29 against the Browns and has missed two straight games.
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